Until recently, eating disorders or eating problems were not even on my radar. I was aware that they existed and that they affected people, but I had wrongly assumed the size of the issue. For many people, these issues do not register, and they are happy to apply moderation to their self-worth. However, the increased importance of self-image and how others perceive us may drive some to try that new fad diet that will ‘definitely’ work or worse. What, how and when they eat can lead to serious issues affecting both physical and mental wellbeing for themselves and those close to them.
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NED Awareness Week) aims to educate the public about the realities of eating disorders and to provide hope, support, and visibility to individuals and families affected by eating disorders.
Historically, eating disorders have been associated with straight, young, white females however this is inaccurate. Eating Disorders affect people from all demographics no matter what their age, gender, race or cultural background and they are not caused by any single factor. Most eating disorders develop during adolescence, although there are cases of eating disorders developing in children as young as six and in adults in their 70's. They can arise from a combination of long-standing behavioural, biological, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and/or social factors. It’s estimated that between 1.25 and 3.4 million people in the UK are affected by eating disorders. Despite there being some significant and well-designed studies conducted in the UK in recent years, many people with an eating disorder still manage to keep it hidden thus the wide range in estimate of numbers affected.
While learning more about this topic, I can see that there are various related aspects to consider. Firstly, identifying an eating problem, where somebody has a difficult relationship with food, is difficult as it can include eating too little or too much, becoming fixated with your weight or having concerns about your shape. Food may also be used as a coping mechanism or a way to feel in control. The actual medical diagnosis of an eating disorder is based on eating patterns and medical tests. The most often identified eating disorders are Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. All are very real and profoundly serious illnesses that people die from.
As with most medical conditions, treatment and support is available and accessing the correct treatment can help develop healthy, balanced eating patterns as well assisting with identifying any underlying issues that contributed to the eating problem.
The charity Beat provide further information and support helping understanding more about eating disorders, where to access help and support and if you are concerned about others. Mind also provide suggestions for treatments, self-help and support.
The misconceptions about who eating disorders affect have real consequences leading to fewer diagnoses, treatment options, and pathways to help for those who do not fit the stereotype. Understanding that eating disorders do not discriminate is critical to making sure everyone has access to help and support.